Orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to supply emergency housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina have placed the Indiana manufacturing community on overtime.
But, according to a report in The Times, Munster, Ind., the demand on Indiana’s builders goes beyond FEMA’s needs. Travel trailers are also being used for companies that lost offices, and the contractors who need a place to live while they repair and rebuild.
In addition, Gulf Coast dealers were stripped of inventory, and are calling on manufacturers to restock their lots.
The scenario has OEM’s scurrying to add employees and ramp up production.
“If you live in the area and you can pick up a screwdriver, you can just about get a job here,” said Mike Bear, vice president of sales for Elkhart-based Coachmen Industries Inc., which doesn’t have a FEMA contract. “We’re trying to get as many out as we can to make sure these people have a place to live.”
This starkly contrasts with Coachmen’s financial situation before the hurricane, as profits and sales were impacted by a soft marketplace. The company had pared production and its work force to match retail demand.
Now, reversing gears, Coachmen estimates this boom may last for three to four months, according to Bear.
Even in the current flush of business, there are mitigating factors, Bear said. The RV industry is usually driven by consumer confidence and gas prices, which are now working against it. Bear said an average vacationer drives 6,000 to 8,000 miles per year in an RV that may get only 10 miles to the gallon.
Also, as Gulf Coast RV parks have filled up with people taking up residence, there is less room for vacationers, Bear said. “It’s been bitter and sweet,” he concluded.
Dutchmen RV, a Goshen-based subsidiary of Thor Industries Inc., is scrambling to add 250 employees by the end of the year. Dutchmen doesn’t sell directly to FEMA but has increased production by 20% in its 11 factories in Indiana, according to Joe Hosinski, marketing manager.
Middlebury-based Jayco Inc., another RV manufacturer without a FEMA contract, has added 50 jobs and pumped up overtime at its four Indiana assembly lines.
Even though Jayco’s business has been healthy for the past few years, its backlog has almost doubled, said Sid Johnson, director of marketing for the company, which also has a towable facility in Idaho. He forecasted this boost to last at least 60 days.
Last year’s hurricanes boosted sales as well, Johnson recalled. “But it was nowhere near the scale of this one,” he said. “The sheer volume caught us off guard.”